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This week 50 years ago: KDA-KMC tussle over water supply

This week 50 years ago: KDA-KMC tussle over water supply

These days, we hear a great deal about the issue of funds’ distribution to run Karachi’s affairs, causing friction between the provincial government and the city’s administrative units. Well, it’s nothing new, although in the past the provincial government was less intrusive and allowed the units to resolve issues on their own. As has often been mentioned in this column, half a century back, the Karachi Development Authority (KDA) and the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) seldom saw eye-to-eye on important matters. The good thing, however, was that both tried to resolve problems as soon as possible to spare the citizens of inconvenience. Who should control, for instance, water supply to the city had been the bone of contention between them for a long time. Even if the corporation had control over it, the authority would keep a stern eye on how things functioned.

In those days, a KMC representative, with the KDA’s permission, supervised what was known as the ‘master valve’ located on University Road that supplied water to the entire old city. The valve supplied almost three-fourths of the total water drawn per day by the KMC from the KDA. The latter offered the supervision to the former in April last after complaints of water shortage and low pressure in pipelines from all over Karachi started to pour in. The KMC distribution staff had blamed the shortage on KDA engineers which the authority denied and offered the corporation to post one of its representatives at the point where the valve was placed. But the mistrust was not going away. On May 8, 1967 the media reported that the KDA was having second thoughts on permitting the KMC to have its official monitor the water supply system.

But on May 9, the authority had a change of heart. It offered the corporation to take over operations of the main valve on two conditions. First, it shouldn’t draw water in excess of its fixed quota. Second, the reservoir levels should be maintained for equitable supply to all areas of the city. Fair call.

On May 11, the authority was again in the news as its chief town planner told a meeting called by the Karachi Divisional Council that President Ayub Khan had asked the KDA to prepare a master plan for beaches stretching from Manora to Somiani. The planner also spoke about Lasbela’s golden beaches and fertility of the land. He said Karachi was getting overcrowded therefore it had to spread out towards Lasbela whose sources were unlimited. Did it happen? Doesn’t seem like it.

It is very important to develop the city’s beaches, especially keeping in mind the always extremely hot and humid Karachi summer. Visiting the seaside is one way to beat the heat. That being said, the 1960s were an interesting era. Only a handful of affluent families had air-conditioners. The rest, belonging to mid – and low-income groups, used homespun techniques to minimise the effect of the sweltering sun. The use of the chilman (a kind of portiere hung over a doorway) was pretty common at the time. According to a news item on May 14,

chilman-sellers had begun to adopt modern salesmanship selling chilmans by the square-foot. The method fetched them more money and gave the buyer the illusion of having spent less. The traditional khas chilmans (khas is fragrant grass) were much in demand. When hung up over doorways and windows, they gave off a musk-like smell and cooled the warm air blowing through them into the house. They were being sold at Rs1.50 per square foot, available only in a few shops along Bunder Road (now M A Jinnah Road). The chilmans made of fine slit-length bamboo, on the other hand, were being sold for 32 to 50 paisa per square foot.

Published in Dawn, May 8th, 2017

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